“When can I go back to school?” Those are the first words 14-year old Rell asked when he woke up after 10 days on life support at Children’s National Hospital. His family and caregivers in our pediatric intensive care (PICU) unit cried, laughed and hugged. Rell was going to make it.

He had arrived in our trauma bay with nine gunshot wounds to his head, chest and abdomen after he and his father were victims of gun violence in Washington, D.C. Neurosurgeon Carlos Sanchez performed an emergency craniectomy, removing a large piece of Rell’s skull to relieve intracranial pressure. He also removed bullet fragments from Rell’s brain.

Ten days later, Rell resumed breathing on his own. Recovery included learning to walk again, occupational and physical therapy to rebuild strength on his left side and speech therapy.

Susan French, the nurse navigator who helped Rell’s family coordinate care, recalls seeing him walk into Children’s National later for a follow up appointment. “He was smiling from ear to ear,” she says, “and wanted to thank the pediatric intensive care unit staff and his 5th floor surgical team for saving his life.”

“Rell’s miraculous recovery speaks to his courage, tenacity and loving family,” says Dr. Sanchez. “His story reminds me of why we do what we do.”

Rell is now back in high school with an impressive GPA and focusing on being a kid. “Children’s National,” Rell says, “gave me the chance to live my life again.”

A young patient at Children's National Hospital.

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A young patient at Children's National Hospital.